Adventures in Loss

She was the first artist I knew. She was a painter. She made her living oil painting over the portraits my grandfather, a photographer, took in his Brooklyn studio. Their business was called Vega Photography.

She was the first chef I knew. When I was a child, her visits were hotly anticipated. She arrived bearing the gooiest and most delectable rocky road fudge you could ever imagine. Frankly, you couldn’t imagine it. Human imagination could never grasp such godly, culinary ecstasy. The fact that she made rocky road seems apropos. She always found sweetness in and around hardships.

Janet was born in Harlem. Her birthday was my half birthday. My half birthday was her birthday.

She played basketball in high school. Baller. FullSizeRender

She began dating Robert, my grandfather-to-be, when she was 18 years old. He was a photographer in the Army. They met at a dance. He drove her home. When he leaned in to kiss her, she slapped him.

Shortly thereafter, they started dating.

Shortly thereafter, Pearl Harbor was hit.

Robert was to be sent overseas, except a funny thing happened on the way to war. At the end of his final medical check-up, the doctor hesitantly asked, “Robert, I’m not supposed to ask things like this, but are you by any chance dating a girl named Janet Axelrad over in Bensonhurst?”

“I am,” Robert said. “I’m gonna marry her, and we’re gonna start a family too. As soon as I get back from the war.”

The doctor subsequently diagnosed Robert with flat feet. Accurately, I might add. Robert was never sent overseas. Instead, he remained stationed stateside, first in Colorado Springs, then in Oklahoma City, then in Kansas City. The doctor ensured that Robert could stay with Janet, which he did, marry her, which he did, and raise a family with her, which he did.

The doctor turned out to be Janet’s cousin.

As for the ship Robert was meant to deploy on?

It was torpedoed in the South Pacific and sank.

Janet married Robert at age 20, and had my father, Lee, at age 22. Four years later, she had my uncle, Cliff.

She was a first generation American, the daughter of Polish immigrants Harry and Gussie Axelrad. Harry opened and operated Cathedral Bar & Grill on Christopher Street. It is now an Italian restaurant called Gaetana’s. The floor tiles Harry laid down a century ago remain. I often wonder if he imagined his great-grandson would one day stand on those very tiles.

Harry spoke Polish, German, English, and Yiddish. The usage of Yiddish would decrease with each passing generation, though my parents never failed to tuck me in without a Schluff Gezunt. “Sleep well.”

Janet was a Modern-Orthodox Jew. She kept a Kosher kitchen. As a kid, I could never comprehend why she had so many plates.

Janet and Robert left Brooklyn for West Palm Beach in 1983, shortly before I was born.

A few years ago, I visited Robert’s sister Annette, who was still living in the Brooklyn home where Robert grew up. In the basement, I stumbled upon my grandfather’s dark room, still intact from the 1950’s. I took pieces of paper off the walls with handwritten quotes, as well as hundreds of paper scraps that I later spent a year piecing together, forming both a 19th century Dutch shipping calendar, which I kept for myself, and an early 20th century map of Brooklyn, which I had framed and gave to my father on his 70th birthday. Annette passed away and the house was demolished shortly after my visit.

My grandfather called Janet “Red.” Her big red mane was unmistakable and unavoidable. I was a perpetual disappointment to her strictly because my own red hair became increasingly brown with every passing year. FullSizeRender_1

“Where’s your red?”

“I don’t know, Grandma.”

“Are you dyeing your hair?”

“No, Grandma.”

“Why is your hair getting so dark?”

“I don’t know, Grandma.”

“You know you really should stop dyeing it. It makes you special. Let your red come out to play.”

She never called me Michael. She called me, “My Michael.” I never knew exactly why. But I always liked the fact that she claimed some kind of ownership over me. I was in good hands.

I remember celebrating Janet and Robert’s 50th Wedding Anniversary at my older brother’s Bar Mitzvah. Robert died shortly before my Bar Mitzvah.

Unable to find a conservative temple in her area, Janet founded one herself. This is where she met her second husband, Harry Wolovitz. They were together for 5 years before he passed.

In 2010, due to declining health, Janet moved to California to be closer to my Dad. She lived in an assisted living home called Alma Via, a few doors down from the grandfathers of my friends Marissa and Jena. In her final days, she had dementia, one leg, and a tumor on her face. But she never complained. She continued to laugh. I loved her laugh. Her eyes would squint and her voice would crack and it was the cutest darn thing you ever did see.

The thing I’ll remember most about Janet is how we would look at each other from across a room. In the afternoons at Alma Via, Janet would park her wheel chair in the common area. Clusters of people in wheelchairs would surround her. While their eyes would glue to the TV screen, Janet’s eyes would gaze out the windows at the flowers and the sunshine.

Whenever I would visit her at Alma Via, I’d peek my head around the corner of the common area and stare at her until her eyes found mine. Sometimes it would take a few minutes, but it was always worth it. She would discover me, then stare at me blankly for a few moments. Then a smile would slowly creep across her face. Her eyes would twinkle. And we’d stay there for a few minutes, just smiling at each other from across a room.

The last time I saw her, we stared at each other for what felt like 50 years. Eventually I approached her.

“My Michael,” she said, slowly. “Where’s your red?”

I tapped my heart and smiled.

Then she tapped her heart and smiled.

Schluff Gezunt, Red.

____________________

Janet Axelrad Schwartz

1923-2017

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Adventures In Surviving 2016

Cheers To The Friends

friends

Cheers To The Gatherings

gatherings

Cheers To The Travel

travel

Cheers To The Adventures

adventures

And Cheers To The Memories

memories

2016 was certainly my most adventurous year yet, in every sense of the word. I am thankful for the opportunity to know so many incredible people and places around the globe. Let us all continue to combat insularity and hate and strive for a kinder, more generous, and more inclusive world.

Wishing excitement and prosperity, love and connection, strong hearts and open minds to all my fellow adventure addicts out there.

Adventures In Leaving Home

To the past and future ghosts of W. 84th Street –

I moved to W. 84th and Amsterdam in September of 2007.img_8044

Apt 2E. “Tooey” as I affectionately called the place, labeling it as such on the front door the month I moved in. It’s the nickname Seymour gave the plant in “Little Shop Of Horrors”. You know, the thing he nurtured that eventually ate him whole.

I was in New York three months earlier, the youngest participant in the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. I was a 22-year-old film actor in LA, masquerading as an assistant in the studio system, and I wanted to be a theatre director in New York. It was to be the smartest financial decision of my life. (🙄 )

I found this one month sublet at W. 84th and Amsterdam on Craigslist from a guy named Jonathan who was leaving to volunteer in Cambodia for a few weeks. I was back in LA, so “Cousin Jen” investigated the apartment for me. One room had a young girl from Texas. One room was acting as a storage closet for a rich girl who lived elsewhere with her boyfriend. And the third room was an office turned bedroom with a futon on the floor.

That room was to be mine.

I packed my bags. I had one month to see if New York was for me.

Then. Jonathan e-mailed me. He decided to stay in Cambodia. Full time.

The futon was mine if I wanted it. The lease was mine if I wanted it as well.

So I took over the lease and I found a steady gig as a middle school tutor.

Then. A month later, I booked a job on my first Broadway show. Sunday In The Park With George.

I guess I was staying in New York after all.

But things weren’t supposed to happen that fast, right? Where were my years of living pay check to pay check and feeling terrified I might end up sleeping on the streets? Oh that was to follow my Broadway debut? Got it.

Sunday In The Park opened. And the recession hit.

My Dad always told me, “Everything is negotiable.” So I negotiated my rent down. I hesitantly asked for a $300 decrease, thinking they’d laugh in my face. They said…”Sure.”

I was officially a lease holder on West 84th Street. 84. My birth year. 8, my lucky number. 4, the members of my immediate family. 8, the symbol for infinity, my greatest fear. 4, like a sail of a boat ashore, my greatest love. It is possible to find so much meaning, and yet look at an 84 sideways and you just might see a guy sticking his tongue out at you. After all, in Hebrew numerology, “84” means “G-d laughs.” Apropos. Do not look for meaning!

84th Street is also known as Edgar Allen Poe Way, but I won’t bore you with any far-reaching connections there.

In 2007 I became a New Yorker. I hustled and I hustled and I hustled. I took every job under the Sun. I did in fact live paycheck to paycheck for 6 years. I poured every dime into my work. I went broke twice. Red. The ATM actually said negative.

Every year I thought I’d finally move into my “real” place. But it never made sense to leave. There are fewer apartment buildings on W. 84th Street than any other residential block on the Upper West Side. That’s because there are two schools on 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. My living room looked out on to a private garden and the bright blue sky.

The rent stayed down. And the neighborhood went up, up, up. Old Jews made way for New Strollers. The Columbia kids moved down. Good Enough to Eat moved to Columbus. And Jacob’s Pickles transformed the 7 block stretch.

Things changed after my bike accident three and a half years ago. I started writing more. I became more entrepreneurial. I created my own projects. And I started to make a living. I became a working, thriving artist. It was all I ever wanted to be.

I also started spending about a third of the year in California. Subletting out that office-turned-bedroom was the only way I could make it work.

W. 84th and Amsterdam has been my home for 9 years and 3 months. In that time, it has been home to a lot of other people as well. A LOT. I could tag half of my Facebook friends right now. Roommates and sublettors. In Betweeners and assorted vagabonds. People I met on Craigslist became roommates became lifelong friends. Thankfully, there was only one true crazy – the very first new roommate. She worked in “fashion”, did coke binges in her bedroom, and came out of her bedroom every five days to eat pizza on the hallway floor and scream in the middle of the night. img_9051

I stand now in this empty space staring at dead walls. But I’ll remember life here. I’ll remember profound joys and surmountable challenges. I’ll remember madcap Hanukkah celebrations. I’ll remember my roof. Oh will I remember my roof.

But more than anything else, I’ll remember the people. Roommates and friends. Deaf and nearly blind Miss Faagata across the hall. Sweet Miss Zingone on the 5th Floor. She must be 90 years old now. I always felt so bad living on the first floor while she slowly climbed five stories to the top.

I’ll remember Joe and Joe at the hair salon downstairs. I’ll remember the kids of Brandeis and PS 9. And I’ll remember Vivian at the laundromat on the corner. Vivian. Sweet, funny Vivian. I think I’ll miss you most of all.

I will be the keeper of this block. I will be its historian. W. 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. 2007-2016. I walked this street a million times. I took notes. I told its stories. Now new people will come. I hope they’ll smile at their neighbors. I hope they’ll water the plants. Most of all, I just hope they’ll laugh at all of Vivian’s jokes.

My time here had its fair share of problems.
But for nearly a decade, this place was full of dreams.
For nearly a decade, this place was full of love.
For nearly a decade, this place was my home.

I might as well end with a quote from Poe himself:

“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.”

Fondly,

Michael

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Adventures In Voting In The 2016 Presidential Election

November 8th, 2016 img_7356

Today is the 19th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah and please PLEASE no gifts. Okay the only gift I’ll accept is your help in electing Dorothy and Hugh’s daughter as our next President!

PS. My Haftorah portion was about the evolution of Avram’s name into Abraham. Kinda like Mister President into Madam President. So Bible Belters, it was written all along!

PPS. Shout out to volunteer Leticia at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side. She was having a rough morning, though she wore her brave face well. I asked her if I could give her a hug, which she accepted. She held tight. When my ballot scanner said “Error” twice before finally being accepted, I looked to Leticia with concern. She said, “Don’t worry, baby. Your vote counts.” Then SHE asked if she could hug ME.
Obvi, Leticia. Obvi.

PPPS. I read Susan B. Anthony’s biography while I waited in line for my ballot. “Failure is impossible.” This morning, 19 years after my Bar Mitzvah, as I audibly wept in line and conversed with my sweet neighbors and hugged Leticia and bought a cupcake from the children and helped an old man find the disability entrance and thought about all the incredible women in my life and filled out a bubble next to our first female President’s name, I think I finally became a man.

November 9th, 2016

Mexican friends, Muslim friends, LGBT friends, Disabled friends, Immigrant friends, Female friends…The list goes on. Know and trust how many millions of people stand behind you. Who stand with you. Who will fight for you. Tonight. Tomorrow. Always.

I don’t know Trump, but I met him a few times when I first moved to New York. I was his waiter at Ivanka’s wedding. I remember watching him, in his yarmulke, with his arms around his new son-in-law, proud, respectful, curious, chanting with the rabbis for hours into the night. This whole election, I haven’t been able to get that image out of my head. It has simultaneously disgusted and infuriated me, while giving me the single shred of hope I cling to about him.

I encourage everyone to watch Secretary Clinton and President Obama’s speeches this morning. I couldn’t sleep all night. I walked these streets in the rain this morning feeling all sorts of things I’ve never felt before. I tried to sing. I tried to pray. I tried to summon the strength of my ancestors, today, of all days, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

But after watching both Clinton and Obama’s speeches, I do feel just a bit better, a bit more hopeful, a bit more galvanized, than I did last night. It’s a start.

My faith lies in all of you – my friends, my allies, my communities. I vow to work every day moving forward to ensure a more vibrant, inclusive, open-hearted America. Join me. Let us mourn. Then let us get back to work.

“This is the end of nothing. This is the beginning of something new and solemn and so important. You must be part of what comes next.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Adventures In Visiting Small Cities, Part I

In anticipation of visiting San Sebastián, Spain next week, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite small cities and towns around the world.

KINSALE, IRELAND

img_6072I’ll kick off with Kinsale, a medieval fishing port turned “Gourmet Capital” on the Southwest coast of Ireland. Located in the province of Munster about 27 km/17 miles from Cork, Kinsale is known as Ireland’s Riviera.
I think I originally fell in love with Kinsale because it reminded me so much of Sausalito in my hometown of Marin County, California. Cafés, pubs, and restaurants line the River Bandon. (Which looks far more like a bay than a river.) The locals are warm and quick to tell excellent stories. And a stroll along the grassy knolls often leads you to what look like abandoned castles.

My father took this photo of me in 2005, jumping around Charles Fort, a military base on the water’s edge. (James’ Fort is located on the opposite side of the harbor.) If you find yourself in Ireland soon, Kinsale is definitely worth a visit.

Ticead amhain go dti an Kinsale, le do thoil!

CORTONA, ITALY
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About a decade ago, I stumbled upon Cortona, a small town perched on a mountaintop in the province of Arrezo in Tuscany, Italy. Traveling from Florence to Rome, I hopped off the train for an afternoon of exploration. Cortona was everything I wanted in a small Italian town – familial and romantic, featuring cobblestones and architecture rich with history, and a sunset view of Tuscany that would bring me to tears. (Alas, while the town was featured in the 2003 film “Under The Tuscan Sun,” Diane Lane was nowhere to be found.) I always encourage people to hop off trains while in unknown territories. You can always catch the next one, and you just might find an adventure you’ll be talking about for the rest of your life.

ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA

img_6310I’ve been to Guatemala twice, once at age 15, and again at 23. I went to volunteer at El Hospital de la Familia in Nuevo Progreso with my father, who’s been making the trip annually for decades. Of the many towns I love in Guatemala, from Tikal to Atitlan, Antigua always stands out as a special place. This photo was taken just outside Antigua at the peak of Mt. Pacaya, an active volcano. Want a one of a kind experience? Hike up some molten rock to the clouds, and watch the lava flow in crevices just a couple feet below you.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

img_6518I went backpacking through Eastern Europe in 2007 in search of my great-grandfather Leo’s art. He attended art school in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century. So I knew, at the very least, that Austria would be on the itinerary.

En route to Vienna, I spent a few days further West in Salzburg, birthplace to Mozart, home of the world renowned Salzburg Festival, and backdrop to the 1965 classic, The Sound Of Music.

Now I haven’t cried a lot in the last 10 years, but I did produce those perfect, slow-to-trickle-down-the-cheek Demi Moore style tears in Salzburg. And I encourage you to do the same.

Visit the Schloss Mirabell, admire the palace’s Baroque interior, walk up and down the Donnerstiege, a spectacular marble staircase. Then take in a performance of classical chamber music inside the Marble Hall. The night I visited, I was treated to a Dvořák string trio. It was the most beautiful music I had ever heard. (Cue those tears.)

If you have a spare day, I also a recommend a day trip to Mondsee, a lake town 27 kilometers outside the city. Enjoy a delicious Viennese coffee, then recreate Maria and Captain’s wedding in the historic medieval Mondsee Abbey.
Well, that’s what I did.

Adventures In Celebrating The High Holy Days

ROSH HASHANA

I’ve been thinking about this story.

A man went to his Rabbi and asked him how he could finally be free of all his problems, his anxieties, and all that was negative in his life.

The Rabbi told the man that the only time he’ll be free of his problems, his anxieties, and all that is negative is when he is dead.

The man decided he was willing to die so that he could be free.

So the Rabbi sat the man in a chair and said he’ll pour hot tar down the man’s throat.

And he did.

And the man screamed and convulsed as the hot tar shot down his throat and entered his stomach.

But. The man did not die. Because it wasn’t hot tar that now flowed through his body.

It was honey.

The man felt fine. The man felt free.

The man had to be willing to consume the hot tar only to find out that it was really honey.

The Rabbi could not have told the man that it was going to be honey to begin with.

The man felt fine. The man felt free.

Now, truth be told, you could say this Rabbi was a bit of an asshole.

But. I understand the point.

This year, may you take on your greatest challenges and fears head on.

May you come out the other side feeling less burdensome. May you carry less weight.

May you thrive in your work, in your love, and in your service to the world.

You can’t do everything. But you must do something.

Most of all, may you have a sweet, sweet, sweet new year.

L’shanah tovah tikateyvu v’tichatemu.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Also, may you light a candle, draw a hot bath, and listen to Solange’s new album.

‘Cause that’ll make you feel real good too.

YOM KIPPUR

Today reminds me of a dream I had many many years ago. I’m in a chilled room of floor to ceiling windows overlooking a San Francisco drenched in fog.

G-d is my tailor, and he is measuring me up for a performance. He silently works around my body as I stare onto a desolate Union Square.

Suddenly behind my ear I hear, “Where are your wounds?”

“I have none,” I say.

He pauses.

Then he asks, “Was nothing worth fighting for?”

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Current mood/vibez/look.

 

 

Adventures In Meeting Your Childhood Heroes

I lost two of my childhood heroes in the last year:

Robin Williams and Gene Wilder.

I met Robin Williams when I was 10 years old.

Robin Williams was the The Pied Piper of my hometown, Marin County.

He was my fellow Redwood Giant.

I used to memorize his stand-up routines in high school and perform them for friends.

He tried teaching me to do a wheelie once on the set of “Jack” down the street from my house. I failed miserably.

He picked me back up and smiled and wheelied away with a cackle, sending me a photo and a note in the mail a few weeks later.

He was always so generous and so kind.

I met Gene Wilder about 5 years ago.

I was the bartender in the Presidential Suite at the US Open. (Never mind that at the time, I had never made a drink in my life – for myself let alone celebrities and international heads of state. But still, with a bit of mischief, I said sure, I can do that.)

It was a loud, boisterous scene. Mr. Wilder, one of my top five childhood idols, approached me. Quietly. Slowly. He walked with a cane, but no surprise tumbles were to come.

I want to say he ordered a soda water.

He kept his eyes on me as I made him his drink. Quietly. Intently. I’m no good at making conversation with my heroes, so I responded in the same manner. Quietly. Intently.

Images flashed across my mind. 7 year old me on stage, playing Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka. 9 year old me at home, wearing out VHS tapes of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

I handed him his beverage. He promptly took his wallet out of his pocket.

I said, “Oh no, sir. That won’t be necessary.” Tips were prohibited.

He paused to smile at me. A Mona Lisa smile. It felt as if he was studying me, discovering me. Or maybe he was letting me discover him.

He slowly turned his wallet upside down, holding it high above the bar. Then, he opened it wide. A few singles fell like feathers. Silence. He paused and smiled a little wider. He maintained eye contact with me. I was locked in his gaze.

Then, a few coins dropped out. Plop, Plop. Plop….Plop.

It was like a clown routine. Grace and perfect timing never eluded him.

He put his wallet back in his pocket, took my hand, then held it in his own.

“Sir, that won’t be necessary,” I repeated.

He glanced down for a moment, but only to look at my name tag. He looked back up.

“Michael. It’s very necessary.”

I could barely breathe. In his hands I felt play, vitality, honor, mischief. Great, lovely, wonderful mischief.

He released my hand, pushed $4.63 across the bar, nodded his head, then walked away.

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Thank you, Mr. Wilder.
We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.
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Thank you, Mr. Williams.
All my love to you, poppet.

Adventures In Sitting Silently And Enjoying The Music With Grandma

I approached my Grandmother and sat beside her.
It had been too long since I had seen her last.
She was slowly eating her lunch while a woman played a waltz at the piano nearby.
My grandmother stared at me blankly for a good 20 seconds.
Then she began to cry.
Then I began to cry.
Then through our tears, we had a brief exchange:
Hello.
Hello.
(Pause.)
Do you know who I am?
No.
Do you know my name?
No.
Michael.
Michael? Michael, Michael, Michael.
I’m named after your mother, Mamie.
Mamie? Mamie, Mamie, Mamie.
I’m your grandson. You know Madeline?
Yes.
That’s my mother. You’re my grandmother.
Yes.
It’s so good to see you.
Thank you. Thank you, Thank you.
You look so beautiful.
Thank you. That makes me feel good.
Good.
(Pause.)
I’m worried.
About what?
I don’t want to get lost.
(Pause.)
I’m right here with you.
Thank you.
I know you can smile.
I hope I still can.
Here. I’ll smile with you.
(Pause. Smiles.)
Thank you for talking to me for these few minutes.
My pleasure.
(Pause.)
I don’t know what to say.
You don’t need to say anything. We can just sit here together for a few minutes and enjoy the music.
(And so we did.)

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Adventures In Not Adventuring, Part II

A few years ago, I learned a very important phrase: “Treat yo’self”. Go out and ENJOY your life. Reward yourself for all that hard work. Travel has become my treat, my personal reward, my ice cream sundae. Last year, I had a three-week window snuggled between two of my biggest projects to date. This window happened to coincide with a business trip my parents were planning to South East Asia. So I bought a plane ticket and joined my folks for some much needed adventure.

I wandered the neon backstreets of Hong Kong. I took a boat around the floating villages of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had one particularly magical day in the mountains outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the afternoon, I got into a water fight with four dancing elephants in a river. At sunset, a monk in a golden mountaintop temple blessed my family and me. In the evening, back at our hotel, I set up my first IRA with a (totally false) projected retirement year of 2050. I’m still not sure which of these activities was most surreal, and which had me counting my blessings more.

After a week and half with my family, I flew to Bali to meet Jesse, one of my best friends of more than 25 years. Bali had long been a dream destination of mine. Some artists have their blue period. I just wanted my Taymor period. (Julie Taymor infamously went to Bali on a fellowship after college, and ended up staying for four years. The multi-cultural mask and puppet work she developed during that time was later appropriated for Disney’s multi-billion dollar grossing stage production of The Lion King.)

Jesse and I arrived the afternoon before Nyepi, one of the largest Hindu celebrations and public holidays of the year. Nyepi is like New Years, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Yom Kippur and Burning Man all rolled into one. After our driver failed to show up at the airport, and we couldn’t reach our accommodations at Alam Shanti, Jesse and I gave in to a cab driver who had been trying to negotiate a trip with us for the previous few hours. As we drove through the streets of Denpasar on our way to the jungles of Ubud, all the roads behind us started to close. Villagers were making way for the parade of Ogoh-Ogohs, giant mythological demon statues that are used once a year in purification ceremonies throughout every village on the island. (Like Burning Man, the ritual ends with the Ogoh Ogoh’s burning to the ground. Unlike Burning Man, a grown ass man in a fur vest doesn’t try to sell you disco biscuits. )

That night, Jesse and I set out into the dark, damp jungles of the Monkey Forest, determined to find one of the street celebrations. We trekked and trekked. We were told the celebrations were over. I wouldn’t believe it, so we trekked some more, by this point completely lost in the jungle of a foreign island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Of course, right at the moment when we were about to give up hope, I spotted a glow up ahead. Jesse and I raced up and around the bend, encountering what I swear to you is the manifestation of all my wildest dreams.

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(It’s called the Bhuta Yajna ritual. Go HERE to watch it.)

The first night of any new adventure is always the best. Nothing beats IMG_0141that exhilarating sense of jumping into the complete unknown. Jesse and I found our way back to Alam Shanti with the greatest feelings of excitement, relief, and joy. At our doorstep, we found two boxes and a small note. The note read that the next day, we were not to speak, we were not to leave the property, and if we must eat, enclosed were our only rations to consume. The entire island will essentially be “closed”. I opened up my box and found a slab of dry meat crawling with ants.

It turns out that Nyepi is the Balinese “Day of Silence”. To commemorate the new year, the day is reserved for self-reflection, fasting, and meditation. And as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The roads are empty. The lights are out. Even the airport is closed. While it is officially a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents and tourists are not exempt from these restrictions.

The morning of Nyepi, Jesse needed to get a little work done, but the WiFi was down. I was itching to explore, but when I approached the gate to the property to leave, I was stared down by the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure that the prohibitions are being followed.

Jesse and I were frustrated for maybe about a minute.IMG_6656

But come on. You don’t get to plan all your adventures. Restrictions can in fact provide structure, discipline, and inspiration. And sometimes, the greatest adventures can be found in not adventuring at all.

So Jesse and I gave in fully to the day. We put away our computers and kicked off our shoes. We pulled flowers from the garden and made color stories on the tables. We read and wrote and played cards by the pool. We soaked in the sun and meditated and had staring contests with frogs. We didn’t explore, well not in the traditional sense. We weren’t productive, well not in the “adult” sense. But rest assured, experiencing Nyepi was one of the greatest treats of our lives.